Have viewers followed Q+A to Thursdays?

ABC moving Q+A to Thursday nights has seen its ratings drop when compared to the Q1 Mondays in 2019 and 2020.

The drop in metro figures comes despite elevating the show from a 9:30pm to 8:30pm start time. While Thursdays generally attract less viewers across the board, the earlier start time might have at least seen numbers hold, but it isn’t the case so far. This comes despite some decent lead-in figures from Back Roads.

ABC sources point to the COVID-19 pandemic delivering a surge in 2020 viewing numbers, which is correct for the year as a whole, under host Hamish Macdonald.  This does make direct comparisons somewhat complex.

Lockdown rolled out across Australia in late March 2020, with 4 episodes in the first 9 weeks themed around COVID (there have been 2 so far in 2021).

Yet comparing to 2019 -without the COVID factor- numbers were also higher with Tony Jones as host. This is not to criticise Macdonald, who has handled some difficult subjects with sensitivity -in his final year Jones had himself advocated for a shift to an earlier slot on a different night.

Here is a comparative look at Overnight metro numbers (per 100,000) across early 2019 – 2021:

Week of… 2019 2020 2021
Feb-04 384,000 484,000 # 290,000
Feb-11 365,000 399,000 294,000 *
Feb-18 370,000 410,000 280,000
Feb-25 429,000 566,000 * 289,000
Mar-04 548,000 394,000 339,000
Mar-11 393,000 412,000 292,000
Mar-18 360,000 517,000 * 232,000
Mar-25 414,000 563,000 * 237,000 *
Apr-01 392,000 505,000 * N/ A

* Covid-19 theme
# Bushfires theme

There is also the matter of what has replaced the show on Monday nights.

Despite strong numbers from Media Watch, ABC is yet to settle on a destination show with a variety of documentaries filling the slot, including Foxtel-produced The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook with Sam Neill, Being Frank and The Hunt for Gadaffi’s Billions -the latter as low as just 187,000 metro viewers.

This is in addition to launching ABC TV Plus which already offers extra documentary timeslots. Programming is always an easier art in hindsight, but it will clearly take time to shift rusted-on current affairs viewers from Mondays to Thursdays.

An ABC spokesperson told TV Tonight, “Like all news and current affairs programs, when COVID-19 arrived in Australia last year the huge public interest in any pandemic-related content saw big audience spikes.

“From May, audiences began returning to previous levels. Q+A was in its former timeslot for 13 years and it’s been in its new spot for a few weeks. The panels have been terrific and the discussions have been interesting and valuable. There’s lots more ahead for Q+A this year. “


  1. Thursday is pay day and at 2AM Friday the ding comes on my iPhone saying my salary has gone in. The last thing I want on Thursday night is something too challenging which might distract from the anticipation of having money again. Monday night is the start of the week and the ABC used to set the agenda for the other media with their lineup, including Q&A. Nowadays Q&A is a lot like the morning show Channel TEN used to have, The Circle. Like it or not, the current host has brought that Channel TEN baggage with him to the ABC and it is very difficult to take him seriously.

  2. daveinprogress

    If the audience is slipping, last night’s ep although great in content, was all over the shop with technical sloppiness. Camera repositions and whip pans several times during the show, playing the wrong insert when intending to play a clip from the PM, and instead starting a taped question. It felt very tentative last night. I wonder if there is increased pressure on the whole team, or just a bad night in the control room. Normally the show is pretty tight when it comes to cameras and vision mixing.

  3. The Inspector

    Hamish is experienced in political discussions as he regularly presents RN Breakfast often having detailed discussions with guests. He doesn’t moderate particularly well, often allowing the loudest voice on the panel talk over other guests. I used to enjoy reading the Tweets during less interesting segments, but they have been over moderated to the point of boredom.

    Monday night is the natural home for this show.

  4. thedirtydigger

    Two simple reasons – the ABC has changed the slot, moving it from a “news” night to the wilds of Thursday nights – what a stupid decision.
    Secondly, viewers prefer Tony Jones.
    And by the way – are they still doing that silly ” last minute ” kerfuffle panel shot where guests are getting touches of make up and sound guys are pretending to wander around in the background as if they are still setting up ?
    Do you think we are complete imbeciles Mr studio director ?

    • Agreed on the timeslot. Monday night is the natural home of Q&A IMHO. Thursday is for light entertainment and footy. It’s death row for Q&A. Can’t understand why ABC execs can’t or won’t see that.

      Re: Tony Jones – perhaps but the Tony Jones is no longer an option so no point in the ABC worrying about what they can’t control. But they can give Hamish a decent night and timeslot to re-establish the show. Thursday night is not doing anyone any favours.

  5. Monday was the best night for this show. I don’t dislike Hamish, but didn’t enjoy changes to the show like a music act etc.

    Presentation also felt more suited to the desk rather than the low coffee table, but that’s just my opinion.

  6. daveinprogress

    I agree with the other commenters that it is about the time slot. There did not seem to be any good reason to move a show that had been on air for a dozen years in the same time slot and move it to a different day and time.

    I like Hamish, I think he is a point of difference to Tony Jones, and the format tweaks have been a bit hit and miss, but Hamish is more at home on the ABC than on Ten, i think. I think audiences like regularity, and predictability. Too much has changed this past 2 years, and maybe another hour of discussion about the all too sobering or all too politically snipey banter is less appealing in this current landscape. A bit of levity or something to distract,, rather than to force focus. There’s so much opinion around on both ABC & SKY. I still tune in to Q&A, but if the guests aren’t interesting, i’m out of there.

  7. Tony Jones the news journalist was the major drawcard for Q&A with a wealth of experience in journalism and moderation. He tried his best to be neutral even though he couldn’t help it a couple of times, but it’s understandable in the world of politics so it was forgiven, and he is very respected being an award winner for his journalism work. It was going to be difficult to fill his shoes. Hamish Macdonald coming from The Project doesn’t fill me with confidence in hosting Q&A because of the strong political slant of The Project. Basically saying that I’d watch Tony Jones or a different host on Q&A but not with Hamish Macdonald as host.

    • i tend to do the same, more so that i forget QandA is on Thursday nights, tonight i remembered though as Gogglebox seemed to be a repeat so i looked for something else to watch, ah theres QandA. I sometimes record Gogglebox or the encore, as i cannot be bothered trying to catchup on Tenplay (still just as usless as it always was!)

  8. Wrong day and time of the week. Rather watch footy or something else but not this. Also the host is terrible. Thats another factor for me why i don’t watch even on replay.

      • I believe it will attract those audiences who watched the show during the elections, American politics doesn’t stop with Mr. Trump and ironically Chas and John are doing a better job researching their favourite subject than some ABC political journalists who are just interested in making headlines.

  9. The current iteration of Q&A is the perfect example of don’t fix what ain’t broke. Sure they had to change the host as Tony left, but the choice is a dud. But why change the format, it used to work well – now its disjointed, confusing and a round table discussion, not hard hitting questions and answers, as it was. Why change the time and night – people have been rusted onto 4 Corners for 50 years and for the last 20 years have become comfortable watching Media Watch then Q&A – Monday nights Sorted. Now its lost in the shuffle up against Gogglebox, the NRL, AFL or later this year The Front Bar. Just put Speersy in the host role, put it back to Mondays and equilibrium will return to Aunty…

  10. I truly don’t believe the timeslot or day has anything to do with it at all. The show has just become really boring and unwatchable at times. Everyone agrees with each other 95% of the time and there are rarely any diversity in opinions or discussions from the panel. It’s like watching a bunch of clones most of the time.

  11. I have not followed the show to Thursday. There was nothing wrong with Monday night and the time slot was perfect for a deeper type news show. Nothing wrong with Hamish, a perfect host but the format seems to of been tweaked and i don’t like it. I also don’t like it as when someone has an opinion that goes outside the norm, they get absolutely slammed. The show use to be a little more loose when Tony hosted it and was not so uptight and allowed a little more humour.

  12. Excellent analysis and reporting on this one. I really enjoy the show, yet I’ve not tuned in once this year. By Thursday I feel its too late in the week to watch this and have a reflective conversation. I think Monday was the right day, as it almost sets you up for the week. Like you’ve mentioned, I’m watching AFL on Thursdays.

  13. On Monday night QA was part of a strong politics line up on Monday nights with The Drum, News, 7:30, Four Corners, Media Watch as lead-ins. It rated 1m when it started and it was fresh to see people talking honestly about ideas. Over time, like all politics it has become about that has become the usual suspects making political attack and deflections devoid of any facts. Social Media and relativism have killed all debate. QAs audience fell to 400-500,000 on Monday nights depening on the celebrity of theguests. Regional shows didn’t increase diversity much because the same people turned up in the audience and on stage.

    So the ABC moved it to Thursday nights, when people go shopping and stream Netflix.

  14. I also note the last two weeks where the numbers have dived even lower. It is turning into a significant underperformance for Q&A on Thursdays. If they are still running any promos for it, it is not working at the moment.

  15. tvwatchermulti

    Is anyone surprised? A biased show always targeting conservatives on issues the wider general public don’t care about. Many have moved to SKY and with the govt abandoning Q&A, I’m surprised the ABC don’t accept this and that they don’t represent mainstream Australians.

    Make the show balanced and you will get some of the audience back (if the damage hasn’t already been done).

    • There are right and left voices on the show every week (including this week) I don’t understand why some choose to overlook this with repetition (and in recent times has even had a member of public on the panel). Numbers suggest the drop is linked to timeslot change, there’s nothing to indicate viewers have switched to SKY News. More likely to AFL on Thursdays.

      • It’s become a pile on and setup the conservatives on the show, plus the fact not one conservative hosts a show on the ABC, we can pretend this isn’t happening but unfortunately it is, (you can also pretend conservatives don’t exist – also not reality) but for $25m a week, we need balance (Sky isn’t tax payer funded so don’t even bring that up pls and thank you)

        • ABC TV doesn’t have opinion hosted shows in the same way as SKY so I couldn’t really tell you how they vote at the ballot box any more than Nine, 10, Seven, SBS hosts. They are there to moderate discussion. Better to cite bias examples rather than persuasion, or raise as an editorial complaint.

      • They are not watching live TV, Thursday’s ratings are lower than Fridays. At least on Fridays there are murder mysteries and lifestyle shows for the over 50s. But then there aren’t many people watching live TV after 9:30pm either, even on Mondays.

    • If anything is biased, it is SKY pushing their right-winged agenda. The reason for the drop in the Q&A audience is purely that it’s on the wrong night. Monday at 8.30 pm would be fine.

    • Many have moved to Sky is my biggest lol of the morning so far. Have you looked at their ratings? Most of even the prime time shouty commentator shows only limp past 50,000 viewers.

      • tvwatchermulti

        You might want to read the mediaweek article titled “Sky News reports record 2020 audience growth all hours, all days” which has figures and facts. Also post 6PM line up attracts more than 50K – in fact usually around 60-70k. Many are watching via their TV subscription, catching glimpses on their Facebook/Youtube/Twitter page or listening via iHeartRadio.

        • I ran similar info here. SKY News was definitely up in 2020, (so was all news & current affairs in an extraordinary year). STV numbers are based on national, FTA on metro, so to make fair comparisons you’d need to include regional numbers for ABC. In any case I’m not seeing any downturn in Q+A leading to a rise in SKY numbers sorry.

    • so it sounds like you think the same sort of people who would even bother tuning into QandA would suddenly prefer to watch Sky news instead, okey dokey lol

    • I agree, this is the reason ratings have dropped. People are tired by Thursday and are seeking light and easy shows to watch. I think it’s why Gogglebox does so well for 10 then.

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